The television industry not only survives, but thrives on gimmickry and a battle of specifications, considering that there's only that much that a television set can do. TVs are increasingly being sold on resolution, connectivity, and features that you're unlikely to need anytime soon. Yes, sure, a new 4K TV set cost less than Rs. 40,000, but if your viewing habits are limited to standard definition DTH, you really don't need to spend the money.
But there is one feature that has been around for a while, but is only just beginning to catch on: Smart TVs. With an increasing number of TVs offering this option, a lot of people have been asking me if it makes sense to invest in a smart TV. The answer is unequivocally yes.
I wasn't so firmly behind smart TVs till earlier this year. What changed my opinion was the launch of Netflix in India, which triggered the launch or upgradation of a handful of other streaming services, such as Hotstar, Hooq, and Spuul. Additionally, with Amazon set to launch its Prime Video service, streaming content in India is set to get a huge boost. This means that viewers now have a viable and competent alternative to ordinary cable/ DTH content, along with the added benefits of being able to choose when to watch whatever you want to watch without having to stick to the schedules set by the channel.
This is where the smart TV comes in. By allowing your TV to connect directly to these services, you gain access to high-quality content from all over the world on-demand, without having to rely on torrents, or the mercies and kindnesses of Indian television broadcasters. You can be like me, and do away with the DTH connection altogether, switching to legal, high-quality online content entirely. By having a TV that can connect to the Internet and access apps and services that beam quality content directly to you, you open yourself up to easy access to a plethora of great content.
Of course, it's important that you pick a good smart TV platform, as that can make or break your smart viewing experience. A lot of TVs are built with interfaces that give you access to very little quality content. While the definition of a smart TV is usually restricted to any TV that can connect to the Internet, what the TV can do with that connectivity is the key here. Access to content apps is important to make a smart TV truly useful, and that unfortunately is where most manufacturers fail.
It's nice to be able to log in to your Facebook and Twitter accounts on your TV. Running a speed test or being able to play Angry Birds might be fun too. But unless genuinely useful apps content apps such as YouTube, Netflix, Hotstar, and YuppTV are available, there's no real use of having your TV connect to the Internet.
The best smart TV platforms are not necessarily the ones that have the most apps, but the ones that have the most relevant apps. Loading the Google Play store onto your TV and giving access to a whole list of apps optimised for smartphones does not count for much, and using apps that are optimised for TV viewing is the key. The best user interfaces today are Samsung's Smart Hub, LG's WebOS, and Google's Android TV, which can be seen on many manufacturers' TVs including Sony and Sharp. The platforms are built for use on TVs, and give you access you a large list of free and paid content services, letting you access a huge collection of content streamed over your Internet connection easily.
(Also see: I Watched TV on TV and I Want Out)
An argument can also be made for smart dongles such as the Google Chromecast, which essentially add smarts to otherwise 'dumb' TVs. While these dongles are excellent at what they do, and give you quick and easy access to typical smart functionality such as screen mirroring and app playback, I can't help but feel that it's simply more convenient for all of that functionality to be on your TV itself. That way, you don't need to use your smartphone as a controller, and it's also far easier to browse for content and choose what to watch on the big-screen itself, thereby making it a more social experience in itself. It's usually faster and easier to use native functions than to switch to the correct HDMI channel, open up the appropriate apps on your mobile, and then pair the two to get things going.
For these reasons, if you're planning to buy a new TV, I highly recommend you get yourself a smart one. The benefits and convenience of watching TV online are immense, and having that kind of connectivity in your television will make a huge difference in how you consume media. Who knows, maybe you'll do what I did and get rid of your DTH connection too!